Foul Performance

Just when it seemed the WVU men's basketball team might be righting its proverbial ship, it once again found a way to take on water. A hungry Connecticut team, looking to add another marquee win to a shaky NCAA Tournament resume, did so on Big Monday by taking out West Virginia 73-62.

Perhaps the Mountaineers had a case of the Mondays. Perhaps the task of hitting the road so soon after playing Seton Hall (a 75-63 win on Saturday) was just too much to overcome.

Perhaps UConn just wanted it too much -- with a frothing-at-the-mouth crowd at the XL Center in Hartford that was just too intimidating.

Perhaps WVU is simply finding ways to lose games at a bad time, with now only three games remaining in the regular season.

Once again, free throw shooting cost West Virginia dearly, as the squad had only 23 attempts from the foul line -- and, more devastatingly, made only 12 of those (52.2 percent).

"That's just awful," said coach Bob Huggins on the MSN postgame radio feed.

That was only compounded by his team's continued struggles to make perimeter jumpers, as the visitors made only four of their 18 attempts from 3-point range. Starters combined to make only three of 15 shots (20 percent) from long distance.

"If we're 4-for-18 from 3 and 12-of-23 from the foul line, we're not going to win it. It's just that simple," said a frustrated Huggins.

But it was a new problem that cropped up at a bad time that also made a big difference.

Typically dominant on the boards, the visitors were out-rebounded by the Huskies on the night -- by a staggering margin of 10 in the first half alone, before the Mountaineers rallied back to make the final margin 37-33 in favor of Jim Calhoun and company.

"That shouldn't happen," said Huggins, simply.

Those issues were enough to force West Virginia into a loss for only the second time under Huggins when it has out-shot its opponent in terms of accuracy.

The visitors were 44.2 percent shooters from the field, compared to 41.7 percent for UConn. Huggins' teams in Morgantown are now 55-2 when outshooting their opponents.

The struggles of the Mountaineers' man-to-man defense in denying dribble penetration by Connecticut guards Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson didn't help matters, as WVU players were whistled for 26 fouls.

Wellington Smith was the only player disqualified with five personals -- but Huggins himself was tossed from the contest as well in the final minute after making his displeasure with the work of referee Mike Stuart.

"I wanted him to know how I felt about him," Huggins said cryptically. "About the whole game. I wanted them to know how I felt about the whole game. What good does it do to wait til we run the clock out? You know?"

Part of the third-year Mountaineer coach's frustration was centered on the fact that UConn shot 42 free throws to West Virginia's 23. Unlike the visitors, Calhoun's players took advantage by hitting 30 of those.

Huggins said he felt like officials were quick with their whistles when the Huskies had possession, but didn't call things quite so tightly when the roles were reversed.

In his eye, that at least partially explained the struggles of senior forward Da'Sean Butler, who was 2-of-10 from the field (missing all four of his 3-point attempts) and had only five rebounds.

"In all honesty, it's hard to make a shot when somebody's running into you," Huggins said.

"(The officials) said, ‘Watch the tape.' I said, ‘I've watched the tape the last four games.' But I'm okay with it. If you're not going to call it on that end, don't call it on this end. But to call it when somebody puts a finger on someone? I mean, come on."

Huggins then drew in a lengthy sigh, before cutting off his own critique of the referees by saying, "I've got to shut up."

It was an all-around frustrating night for West Virginia, but the final score wasn't entirely indicative of just how competitive Monday night's game was.

The Mountaineers (21-6, 10-5) were within a single point of UConn when Devin Ebanks scored a lay-in with 8:49 to go to make it 53-52.

The sophomore forward did his best to keep his team within reach minutes later, converting an old-fashioned 3-point play at the 6:31 mark to draw WVU back within 58-56.

But UConn (17-11, 7-8) would close on a 15-6 run to keep the visitors at bay. Of those 15 points, 11 came at the foul line.

Once again, West Virginia was forced to rally in the second half after playing a poor first 20 minutes.

After the visitors jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the first minute, Calhoun called a timeout -- as much to berate the same officials Huggins would eventually find fault with as to coach his team.

Those referees would whistle the Connecticut coach for a technical foul. Butler stepped to the line after the timeout and missed both free throws -- a struggle that has become a disturbing trend for the senior forward.

Calhoun's team responded. The Huskies promptly went on a 14-1 run and would build a pair of 13-point leads before the intermission, when they led 37-28.

The poor start was just one more thing on the mind of Huggins after the final buzzer.

"This league is too good, and our margin for error is not great enough to be able to do this," he said. "We've got great kids, and they're really good guys, but our margin for error -- when Da'Sean doesn't make any shots, it's hard."

For the Mountaineers, Ebanks led the team with 17 points (on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting from the field) and nine rebounds.

Kevin Jones was the only other WVU player in double figures, adding 12 points -- but he struggled to a 5-of-13 performance, hitting only one his five 3-point attempts.

Connecticut's Walker and Dyson paced things, scoring 21 and 17 points, respectively by repetitively cutting up the West Virginia defense.

Forward Stanley Robinson was the beneficiary of a lot of the dribble drives by Walker (who had four assists), tallying 15 points and 13 rebounds.

West Virginia gets the rest of the week to get back to work in practice before hosting Cincinnati this Saturday at the Coliseum.

It, like both of the other remaining games on the Mountaineers' regular-season slate, is suddenly of pivotal importance if the team hopes to earn the double-bye in the Big East Tournament that comes with finishing in the league's top four.

"We've got to go back and reload," Huggins said. "We've got two big home games. We've got to take care of them. We can still be a two or a three-seed (in the NCAA Tournament). Who knows what happens from there?"

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